Sabres Report: Youth Being Served

By Ken McKenna
With three wins in three pre-season games, the Buffalo Sabres have won as many games as they did in the three previous pre-seasons combined. Granted, the caliber of competition consisted of two teams (Boston and Chicago x2) that will be going nowhere fast this season, but the wins have been impressive nonetheless because of the play of Buffalo’s young prospects.

The first game, a 5-3 victory over Boston, was a penalty-filled affair that saw several youngsters make the score sheet. Impressive newcomer J.P. Dumont scored a power play goal off an assist from Jeremy Adduono. Adduono and Dimitri Kalinin assisted on an Erik Rasmussen 2nd period power play goal, while Brian Campbell helped setup Doug Gilmour’s power play tally in the 3rd period. Eric Boulton, a brawler making a serious bid to land a spot on the Buffalo roster, provided some fisticuffs in a spirited 3rd period battle with Boston tough guy Ken Belanger. Boulton displayed more than just a good uppercut, however, as he has good speed and enough hockey sense to keep himself from being a liability when he is on the ice. In spite of Boulton’s inspired play, Dumont was probably the most effective prospect in this game, as he displayed the offensive instincts and skills that made him a top prospect in his draft year.

Buffalo’s second victory, a 3-0 blanking of the Chicago Blackhawks, featured a strong performance from Buffalo’s top prospect, Mika Noronen. Mika made several tough stops early in the game, and provided solid goaltending in the 3rd period to preserve the Buffalo victory. Noronen’s performance earned him the game’s first star. Another prospect who turned in a strong showing was Norm Milley, the rookie RW out of Sudbury. Norm scored a power play goal in the 2nd period off a nice deflection, and he was generally effective on most shifts as he used his speed to hound some of the slower-footed Chicago defensemen. Denis Hamel, another young player having a solid camp, scored a 3rd period power play goal off a deflection to salt the victory away for the Sabres. Maxim Afinogenov chipped in two assists, which earned him the 2nd star. Although he did not pick up any points, Brian Campbell put in some good work at the point on the power play, as he continued to impress in this pre-season.

The Sabres returned home to once again face Chicago in a game that marked the debut of ’99 1st pick Barrett Heisten. Heisten played sparingly, mainly filling the role of agitator, as he displayed good speed and puck pursuit. The Sabres have liked some of what they have seen of Barrett, but he is clearly not ready for the NHL. One player who does appear to have a roster spot sewn up is J.P. Dumont, who continued to display his considerable offensive skills. Dumont scored the winning goal in Buffalo’s 2-1 victory, with assists going to Dimitri Kalinin and Erik Rasmussen. Dumont’s goal was a thing of beauty, as he cut to the middle of the ice on his backhand, then roofed a backhander just under the crossbar- truly a goal scorer’s goal. In spite of not getting his name on the scoresheet, the best Sabre prospect in this game might have been Norm Milley. Norm was effective on most every shift, often creating scoring chances with his speed and shifty moves. Kalinin and Brian Campbell also continued their solid play this pre-season, with Campbell setting up a power play goal by Miro Satan. Eric Boulton showed he is not afraid to fight anyone, as he battled Chicago tough guy Bob Probert to a draw.

The Sabres continue their pre-season slate this weekend with back-to-back games against the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets (the games will be held in Syracuse and Rochester). It is debatable whether playing this many games against soft opponents will help the Sabres prepare for the regular season, but the fact that so many youngsters have contributed to Buffalo’s three victories has to be very encouraging to coach Lindy Ruff and GM Darcy Regier. Lindy and the coaching staff will have some tough choices to make when it is time to pare down the roster, although Kalinin and Dumont would appear to be locks to make the Buffalo roster. Having these types of tough choices to make are decisions that 29 other NHL coaches wish they had, however.

Rochester Opens Camp

Buffalo’s farm team, the Rochester Americans, opened their training camp on 9/20. This season marks the coaching debut of new Amerks coach Randy Cunneyworth, who retired as a player following a season-ending injury.

In addition to the players invited to camp by Rochester, the Sabres sent down ten players from their training camp. The players sent to Rochester included four players from last year’s Amerks team (C Francois Methot, LW Darren Van Oene, D Mike Hurlbut, D Doug Houda), plus the following 1st year pros- RW Craig Brunel (Red Deer/Prince Albert-WHL), RW Bret DeCecco (Seattle-WHL), D Matthew Kinch (Calgary-WHL), LW Andrew Peters (Kitchener-OHL), G Scott Sterling (Brown University-NCAA) and RW Jaroslav Kristek (Tri-City-WHL). A complete training camp roster can be found at .

Rochester will play two exhibition games against the Hamilton Bulldogs, one on 9/24 in Burlington, ON, and the other on 9/29 at the ESL Sports Centre on the campus of Monroe Community College.